NFL Picks Week 5: Philadelphia Eagles Set to Rebound Against Buffalo Bills
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The Philadelphia Eagles stand at 1-3, staring down the barrel of what could be the most disappointing season in franchise history.
In the last three games, the Eagles' highly touted, retooled defense has shown that despite the new faces, the result is not very different from a year ago when the Birds were among the worst teams in the NFL in red-zone defense.
The "D" has relinquished three straight fourth quarter leads and the offense, in an even more surprising twist, has sputtered when it matters most. If those problems weren't enough, the kicking game is suspect at best, with Alex Henery missing two chip shots in last week's game. Two chip shots that, despite all their troubles, would have secured an Eagles victory.
Eagles fans are in panic mode. The calls for a coaching shakeup are louder than ever and, if it weren't for the Phillies postseason run offering a welcome respite for fans, the city of Philadelphia would sure have revolted against the Eagles' brass by now.
This week the Eagles will face the upstart Bills, who are 3-1 and, frankly, should be 4-0. Ryan Fitzpatrick has led the offense to a torrid start and no-names like Fred Jackson, Stevie Johnson, David Nelson and Scott Chandler are among the league leaders in production at their respective positions.
The odds are stacked against the Birds, but Eagles fans may breathe a little easier come Monday because, this week, the Eagles will pull out a victory in Buffalo.
Here are five reasons the Philadelphia Eagles will sit at 2-3 come the end of the day on Sunday.
LeSean McCoy: Budding Offensive Superstar
LeSean McCoy must become more heavily involved in order for a thus far inconsistent Eagles offense to live up to preseason expectations.
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LeSean McCoy has been one of the few bright spots on an otherwise inconsistent Eagles offense. He is fifth in the NFL with 363 rushing yards through Week 4. His 5.5 yards per carry also stand fifth in the NFL.
The real strength of McCoy, however goes well beyond rushing yardage. He has developed into one of the most dangerous open field weapons in the league, and the Eagles need to, and will, begin to rely more heavily upon the third-year back out of University of Pittsburgh.
Thus far this season, McCoy has only averaged 20 receiving yards per game, but that number is more a result of a lack of opportunity than it is a lack of production. He already has two receiving touchdowns and, as evidenced by his numbers in 2010 (78 receptions, about 40 yards/game), he stand poised to break out and fill a role in the mold of Brian Westbrook or Marshall Faulk.
Andy Reid has shown in the past that he knows how to effectively use a weapon out of the backfield (see Brian Westbrook) and McCoy has developed enough of a feel of the game that he can be trusted to perform in all facets of the game, running, blocking and receiving.
Early in his career, the knock on McCoy was that he was not well versed in the art of pass blocking or, more specifically, picking up the blitz which is a vital responsibility of the RB position. Given two full years of experience, youth is no longer an excuse to hold him out of certain game situations.
McCoy has proven that the dimension he adds to the offense, an explosive element that takes full advantage of the space opened up around the line of scrimmage by deep threats DeSean Jackson and Jeremy Maclin, far outweighs any negative that could result from him being on the field.
Look for the Eagles to get McCoy involved early and often in both the rushing game and passing game against a Bills team that, despite all their success, has yielded over 405 yards a game to opposing offenses.
Jason Babin and Cullen Jenkins: Sack Kings
Cullen Jenkins and Jason Babin will step up and force Ryan Fitzpatrick into bad decions on Sunday.
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Two of the Eagles' most heralded signings in a busy free agency period were defensive lineman Jason Babin and Cullen Jenkins.
Through the first four weeks of the 2011 season, Babin and Jenkins are first and fifth in the NFL in sacks. New defensive line coach Jim Washburn's scheme, known as the "Wide 9," has come under fire as a result of the Eagles' fourth quarter meltdowns, but the fact is that it has produced results.
Trent Cole, who will be out this week with a strained calf, is also in the top 15 of the league in sacks, and the Eagles have been able to sustain pressure on the quarterback in all four of their games.
The "Wide 9", which is rooted in the idea that the defensive line will be more productive if they are spread out more therefore isolating players in one-on-one matchups with blockers and encourages defensive linemen to get up field quickly and disrupt the backfield rather than "eat" blockers as more traditional schemes require, has been blamed under the pretense that this spread-and-attack approach has allowed teams to create huge holes in the running game.
While the scheme does put added pressure on the linebackers to fill gaps and win open field battles with running backs, it is not nearly as flawed an approach as the Eagles defense has made it seem through four games.
The fact is that the linebackers the Eagles have sent out on the field have been the root of all the Eagles defensive problems.
With Babin, Cole, Jenkins and the rest of the defensive line forcing offenses into quick throws, and the talent the Eagles brought in to the defensive backfield making even more difficult for quarterbacks to find open receivers in the face of heavy pressure, the linebackers, theoretically, should really only be primarily responsible for stopping the run.
As we all know, theory is often different from reality.
The Eagles' linebackers, starting middle linebacker Casey Matthews in particular, have struggled so much that the secondary has been called on to help with the run, weakening their ability to defend the pass.
This has caused a domino effect where the defense has fallen apart time and time again, where even serviceable linebacker play would get the job done.
Of course, none of this would matter if the play doesn't even make it past the line of scrimmage. Look for Jenkins, a veteran of last years' Super Bowl champion Green Bay Packers, to step up his game and wreak havoc on an offensive line that has been solid thus far this season, but has not faced anything like the Eagles' pass rush as yet.
Once Jenkins starts pushing the play from the middle, expect Babin to clean up on the edge. The Eagles, giving Fitzpatrick very little time to find open receivers, will force the Bills offense from their comfort zone in their first solid performance in weeks.
Brent Celek: Solves Eagles' Red Zone Woes
Brent Celek will play a large role in awakening a dormant Eagles red zone offense this week in Buffalo.
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Another troubling remnant from last season is the Eagles' difficulties scoring in the red zone. The Eagles have thus far scored touchdowns on just 38 percent of their possessions in the red zone, a pathetic number that ranks just 23rd in the league.
Whether this is simply a play calling issue or a sign of inferiority on the offensive line, the tight end can be utilized to help cover up these deficiencies.
Eagles fans know the damage a tight end can do to opposing defenses as the Eagles' defense is torched by opposing tights ends week after week as they can be an effective safety valve for quarterbacks in an area of the field where size is often more important than speed.
In 2011, Brent Celek has just eight receptions for 67 yards and no scores. It is not hard to see why the tight end would be overlooked an offense dripping with fancy weapons like the Eagles are, but it is also not as if Celek isn't an effective weapon in his own right.
When called upon, Celek has proven he is a solid receiver with above average capability in running after the catch. For whatever reason though, he has all but disappeared since Michael Vick took over as Eagles quarterback.
However, it would be difficult to say that Vick doesn't throw to tight ends either. In Atlanta, one of his few consistent weapons was tight end Alge Crumpler. Vick has proven he can find the tight end.
It is logical, given the fact that Celek has proven he is talented in the past and Vick has proven he can find his tight end in the past, to say that the reason for Celek's disappearance is a result of plays not being called for him to get the ball.
This week in Buffalo, look for Andy Reid to get back to basics and dial up a few plays for his tight end in the red zone, and look for Celek to deliver. Vick to Celek will play a crucial role in an Eagles victory.
Nnamdi Asomugha: Ready to Break out
Nnamdi Asomugha will become more comfortable with the Eagles' defensive scheme as time goes on.
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The biggest splash the Eagles made in an active offseason was their under-the-radar signing of arguably the most sought after free agent available, Nnamdi Asomugha. Asomugha has been a non-factor thus far this season and has, at times, looked lost on the field.
Through four weeks of spectacular regular season games, the lockout has become but a distant memory to most fans, but its effects still loom large over the season. Unlike a normal free-agent signing period, Asomugha didn't know until days before training camp where he would be playing this season.
As a result, he missed out on a lot of time that could have been used familiarizing himself with Eagles' defense. Further complicating matters is the fact that the entire team is familiarizing themselves with new defensive coordinator Juan Castillo's scheme, and Asomugha is in a tough spot trying to learn on the fly.
His mistakes this season have seemed to really be the result of him being a step behind the action, a step that could be the result of thinking instead of reacting to what's coming at him.
As the season progresses, Asomugha will only become more comfortable with the coverage packages the Eagles are running and he will return to the elite status he had achieved with the Oakland Raiders.
This week in Buffalo, expect Nnamdi Asomugha to make a major difference in the passing game, even if it doesn't show up in the stat column. Asomugha is the type of player who is so good that opposing offenses will avoid him all together, the statistical fruits of his labor showing up in other player's stat columns.
The Eagles defense will record several turnovers this weekend, knocking the Bills offense from the lofty perch they've put themselves on with their performance thus far in 2011.
Alex Henery: Kicks His Way Back into Favor
Alex Henery will regain his form in Buffalo.
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When David Akers, the most successful, prolific kicker in Eagles history, missed two field goals in last years' playoff game against Green Bay which could have sent the Packers packing, the Eagles' brass decided it was time to part ways with the longest tenured player on the team.
They then turned to Alex Henery, a rookie drafted out of the University of Nebraska and one of the most accurate kickers in NCAA history, to handle placekicking duties and their decision looked like a good one until last week.
In the Eagles' collapse against the San Francisco 49ers, Henery missed two field goals within about 35 yards, either one of which would have given the Eagles the win.
Kicking is one of the most psychological positions in all of sports. It is easy for things to snowball out of control once they start going bad. Simply put, that is what happened to Henery. A rookie, facing the wrath of Lincoln Financial Field for the first time, losing your focus is about as easy as it is to spot something green.
Expect Henery to get his head back on straight on Sunday in Buffalo. In college, he performed well in environments much more raucous than those that exist in NFL stadiums. Henery will rebound nicely and may provide the difference maker against a solid Buffalo Bills team.